In cities across the country individuals have set up “tent communities” in public parks and available open space. In these communities, residents live in what is legally and universally recognized as public space. Like traditional communities with permanent infrastructure (e.g. houses, apartments, etc.) residents living in these cities often perceive the spaces they occupy as their home and the people around them as part of a larger social network for whom they depend for sustainability. However, without access to private dwellings, residents live under constant scrutiny from many members of their local municipalities and in fear that they will be removed (forcefully) from the space. While some of these residents have lived on the street for some time, others have joined tent communities to be closer to nature and live in minimalism. In fact, interviews conducted with members of these communities have shown that many residents do not consider themselves to be homeless, but simply members of an ever growing urban landscape. Additionally, common social descriptors, such as age, gender, education, criminal history, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental and physical well-being vary widely across communities, with many resident even working traditional jobs. With access to green space being more and more coveted with new development and cities desiring to make park spaces a local attraction, park directors in these cities often face an ethical dilemma, remove the tent communities from the public space to make the area more attractive and accessible for more standard park use or allow them to remain and risk low park attendance and social backlash? As one research acknowledged, “denying individuals who face homelessness their capacity to exercise choice (i.e. where to live, how to construct community) and construct their identities is to deny them status as full human agents, and to deny they justice”.

You have recently been appointed the Director of Parks and Recreation for Park City. One of your first duties as Park Director is to hold a meeting with members of the public and local officials. During this meeting it is brought to your attention that a large tent community has been set up in a local park on the city’s eastern side. According to many residents and officials at the meeting, the tent community dilutes the value of the space, as people are afraid to go into the park to use its various amenities. As one lady proclaimed “it is a threat to public safety and this community to let those homeless people stay there”. Additionally, Park City is growing and many of the public officials are looking to place new developments in close proximity to the park. Their belief is that the tent community may prevent new homebuyers from considering the location. With green space at a premium, officials believe this could cost the city millions of dollars—including your department who relies on property taxes for funding. Concluding the meeting, you promise to investigate the tent community and render a decision as soon as possible. During your investigation you discover that the tent community has existed in the park for over a decade and there are now over 300 people living in the area. Speaking with residents from the community, you quickly discover that most are attached to the space and consider other members part of their extended family. You also discover, upon checking police records, that there have been almost no arrest or reports of disorderly conduct by residents of the community. You will be briefing the press about your decision, and your comments will be distributed throughout national and global media outlets. The question everyone wants to know is will the tent city be allowed in Park City?

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